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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Fight goes on after Myuran and Andrew

Bali's Kerobokan prison
Bali's Kerobokan prison
When Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan faced their certain death last year, pastor Christie Buckingham remembers how they sang Bless the Lord until the end.

"(I remember) their kindness, their courage ... the way that they smiled at those about to take their lives."

She also recalls the promise she made to continue their fight against the death penalty.

Friday marks 1 year since the 2 men were executed by firing squad just after midnight or 3.25am (AEST) on the island of Nusakambangan - 10 years after being found guilty of smuggling 8.3kg of heroin out of Indonesia.

Sukumaran and Chan were among 14 drug traffickers executed in Indonesia last year, amid intensifying condemnation from human rights activists and international governments.

The pressure continues with German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing her country's wish for Indonesia to put an end to capital punishment, during Indonesian President Joko Widodo's recent visit to Europe.

Despite this, Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan and Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo have flagged executions are likely to resume this year.

Head of Central Java's Corrections Division Molyanto said they were currently building more isolation cells - where those awaiting execution are kept - at Nusakambangan prison.

But he denied reports that the "execution field" is being extended.

Sukumaran and Chan's Australian barrister Julian McMahon said it was "surprising" further executions were back on Indonesia's agenda.

"The fact is after the international dismay in April 2015 executions have now stopped for 12 months. The reason has not been publicly identified, except by reference to economic priorities. But most commentators think that international reaction would be very relevant," he told AAP.

Indonesian lawyer Dr Todung Mulya Lubis - who tweeted "I failed. I lost" after his clients' executions last year - has been campaigning against capital punishment in the country since 1979.

Since then he feels they have made "small progress".

"We have made people aware of the death penalty ... I believe over time we will be able to score some wins."

While he cannot see the abolition of the death penalty happening in Indonesia "any time soon", he hopes a bill tabled before parliament last year might prove a "middle way".

Under the proposed changes, if people show they have rehabilitated themselves, they could see their execution commuted to a life sentence.

He also noted "the international campaign must also be more tactful not to embarrass Indonesia".

According to the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) in Indonesia, more than 100 people are on death row in the country. Just over half of these are for murder while two face capital punishment for terrorism offences.

The rest are due to be executed for drug offences.

Mr McMahon said "this week was proving very difficult for the families as they come to grips with their own grief and the loss of Andrew and Myuran."

In their last few years, he said the pair had "uplifted, educated and improved many prisoners."

"If they had lived that example would have so easily multiplied out for the benefit of more and more prisoners."

Source: The Mercury, April 29, 2016

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